Owen Clapp did not think he was good enough.
A musician since the third grade, Clapp still said he worried during his second year of college that he was not cut out for the rigors of the music world.
That is until fellow UCLA bandmate, Julian Le, gave Clapp some advice that changed the way he looked at being a working musician.
“My friend told me that to be a great musician you have to work at it and music has to become your identity,” Clapp said. “Music is a lifestyle, not just a job.”
Clapp, a recent UCLA ethnomusicology graduate specializing in jazz studies, has sought to live this music style performing in a myriad of projects that incorporate genres ranging from hip-hop and jazz to classical and South Indian music.
Clapp has released an album with Le, titled “The Journey.” The album is a collaboration between bassist Clapp, pianist Le and drummer Colin McDaniel that combines genres such as hip-hop and contemporary jazz into 10 songs.
Le said he wanted Clapp to be a part of the album because of Clapp’s ability to go in many different directions with music.
“Clapp picks up on the mood of music very fast and is open-minded,” Le said. “Some musicians can only play classical music, but he’s willing to play anything.”
Although he was first introduced to such styles of music at a young age, Clapp said he did not always enjoy it. Clapp played cello for his elementary school orchestra but said he was not able to connect with the music because it was just rigidly reading off a piece of paper.
It wasn’t until freshman year of college that Clapp took his career as a musician seriously.
“I learned that the general attitude of the music world was positive and that it was so community focused,” Clapp said. “I took with me this idea of being a part of a community of musicians.”
Once he decided to pursue music full time, Clapp took the opportunity to audition and work with several professional musicians, the highlight of which was touring with rapper Dumbfoundead as a member of his live band.
Clapp’s work with Dumbfoundead was his first non-jazz tour and took him across the country to about 15 cities. He said it gave him the opportunity to experience the life of a professional musician.
In addition to performing with established musical acts, Clapp also frequently collaborates with fellow UCLA musicians, including the Aditya Prakash Ensemble, a band that blends jazz and classical South Asian music. One aspect of the production that Clapp said he especially enjoyed was learning the intricacies of Indian classical music and adding his own individual style and interpretation.
Aditya Prakash, the vocalist and composer of the ensemble, was introduced to Clapp through a mutual friend and said Clapp adapted well to Indian music, which is usually unwritten and heavily improvised.
“Clapp has a great ear and is able to pick up on whatever he hears,” Prakash said. “He really molds and meshes well with the group and has the ability to just groove to the music.”
Performing with the Aditya Prakash Ensemble has shown Clapp he can also be comfortably content as a member of a large group. Although down the road he would like to compose for and lead his own string quartet, he said he wants to spend his time working with a variety of musicians.
“It’s a learning experience about being a part of a musical family,” Clapp said. “Being a musician is based on respect, and when you make music together, you form a deep connection.”
His connection with his fellow musicians and respect for music has earned him admiration from his peers.
“Clapp is a born musician and every time I see him performing, he is having the time of his life,” Le said. “I really can’t see him doing anything else.”